AHA Senior Helen Larson '16 delivered this speech to the AHA student body, teachers and staff in the closing ceremony on All School Service day, May 27th, 2016. Read more about the day.
I’ve only agreed to speak in front of 600 people under the condition that Mr. Sawyer will grade this as my final speech for public speaking class. In all seriousness, I am honored to receive this opportunity and am humbled to stand in front of you today, to share my service experiences and the values I’ve learned from that.
This past summer, I spent two months at a foster care facility in China, called Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village. It’s a home for children who are at-risk and/or have special needs from orphanages across the country. The goal is to heal, nourish, love, and educate these kids until they are adopted. You might think having a disability limits a person’s value to this world, because we tend to marginalize people who can’t be independent. The only difference between me and a kid in a wheelchair is not that I can walk and he can’t; it’s that this world will be much harsher on him than me, all because of one thing that neither of us had control over. Consequently, the cruel reality will give me more opportunity, more acceptances, and more favoritism. Mr. Sawyer asked me to talk about what service means to me, but I think all of us need to understand something before we serve others. We are unique as individuals, but more importantly, equal as human beings. You are only feeding your own ego if you help people because you pity them. Doing an act of service is about using your resources that you are lucky to have access to, on those who are denied of those needs, whether it’s food, water, shelter, nourishment, education, etc. Inequality exists because people fail to see beyond a person’s physical abilities. Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, once wrote: “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it”. None of us got here on our own. You would not be sitting here if it weren’t for the people who built roads and highways. We are all connected by love.
I have to admit, standing up here today in front of my peers is a little out of ordinary and nerve-racking, because there is a preconceived notion that I, as a teenager, am only supposed to care about GPA, popularity, and social media. My point is – the real reason why I stand here today behind this podium with shaky legs is that I have learned to accept and embrace how obstacles in my life have made me different, just like those kids at Shepherd’s Field, who embrace their differences through laughs and smiles. Don’t hide your uniqueness just to fit, let it be the thing you can offer to the world. Because with suffering, you can gain strength, and with strength, comes great compassion.
In 2011, Stephen Colbert spoke an honest truth in his commencement speech at Northwestern University, “In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love because service is love made visible. If you love your friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve your money and if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself and you will have only yourself”… looks like we are all on our own then."
In conclusion, the more equally you value every human being, the more inequality you will see in this world, and the more you will want to change lives and make an impact. But the most honest thing I can tell you today is that those changed lives will change you more than you will EVER change them. Thank you.